[New Release] Paths of Storytelling: Vampire the Masquerade Fiction

It’s the beginning of April. Cold. Biting cold here in the frozen tundra of the Midwest. Snow. No, really. Snow. Yet? I’m excited and that buzz, buzz, buzz is heating up my laptop. This year, Vampire the Masquerade is celebrating its twentieth anniversary.

But that’s not the only reason why I’m bouncy. My story begins with an e-mail from Eddy Webb, the World of Darkness Developer for White Wolf Publishing.

    EDDY: How familiar are you with fiction for Vampire: the Masquerade?
    ME: (Spacing) Duh… It’s been a while since I’ve read anything…

    Several hours later.

    ME: Oh, crap! I wonder if Eddy was asking me about a project. DOH!

And so, I ran over to my computer after reviewing the V:tM titles that grace my shelves and proudly declared via e-mail that while it has been a while, I have source material. Lots and lots of source material.

A week later I’m pouring through The Beast Within, which may just be the first-ever anthology published for Vampire the Masquerade. And then I’m watching the Kindred: the Embraced television show, and scanning through the supplements and…

Well, you get the idea.

Paths of Storytelling | White Wolf PublishingEvery year for April Fool’s, White Wolf offers fans something fun. This year, that stunt is Paths of Storytelling, a “long-forgotten” manuscript that was previously rejected by the good people at White Wolf Publishing due to its sacrilegious nature to their setting. Indeed, the company has taken what we (Jess Hartley, Kelley Barnes-Hermann and myself) wrote and has expressed its outrage at the way we treated this sanctified property.

Today, though, I get to announce I worked on this. For this super-fun project, I wrote and designed the Gangrel storyline. Does it have metaplot? YES, YES IT DOES! Signature characters? YES, YES IT DOES! A hedge maze? A cheesy meata-balla scene? Small woodland creatures?

Um, if I said “Yes!” would you hold that against me? *smiles sheepishly*

For Paths of Storytelling, we were asked to take the product seriously in that the story still has to make sense. Telling jokes and writing bad metaphors over and over again isn’t sustainable to any structure, so while the one-liners and horrible, awful scenes are there, I still had to focus on ensuring the character’s “path” was believable.

With that in mind, I chose to structure my storyline with an adventurous feel, focusing on more metaplot and introducing other signature characters the deeper you got into the story. Remember, I still had the challenge of explaining just enough Vampire: the Masquerade to both character and player. And there’s A LOT of ground to cover. Phew! Written in second person, you experience what it’s like to become a Gangrel by making appropriate choices that appeal to you. How does it end? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

Anyway, if you haven’t already downloaded it, I hope you take a moment to download Paths of Storytelling. White Wolf is offering multiple formats this time around including Paths of Storytelling in ePub and Paths of Storytelling for Kindle. In addition to the Gangrel storyline, you can also pick your path as a Malkavian or as a Toreador. I had an absolute blast writing this! If it weren’t for those pesky deadlines, I could have easily written a whole novel in this format.

Before I let you go, one last thing…

NO ONE DEFEATS EL DIABLO VERDE!

Okay, fine. One more last thing…

A Personal Message to Vampire: the Masquerade Fans


For those of you who are tried-and-true fans of Vampire: the Masquerade, I want you to know that I am also one of you. That’s the reason why I took a trip down memory lane pouring through books, shows, supplements, etc. Everything I wrote was done in the attempt to jog your memory, to remember what these characters and places are really like. Like every other joke White Wolf has done, some of you are going to laugh and others groan or get really upset. So I want you to know that I understand if you don’t like it and I respect your opinion. I appreciate you reading it, regardless.

It is, however, my deepest wish that after reading Paths of Storytelling, you re-read and/or play the game we loved for so many years. To not only remember the good times, but to bring them out of torpor and relive them.

Also, thank you so much to everyone who downloaded the ninety-nine cent version. As one of the contributors, I can now add best-selling author to my resume and for that, I bow mightily in your direction. It means a great deal.

Thanks again!

And have a nice day.

Why Your D&D Game Doesn’t Make a Great Novel

DragonHave you heard the line, “Your D&D game won’t make a great novel?” If you’ve heard me speak on panels before, or if you’ve read several submission guidelines from agents or publishers, you might have. I’d like to tackle why.

First, let’s get all the bad mojo out there on the table by saying something completely untrue. “Oh, that evil publisher doesn’t like gamers…” Several well-known authors I’ve met are either gamers themselves or their kids are. And by gamers, I mean everything from tabletop to video and card games. Also? Publishers aren’t evil. You may get frustrated by their decisions, but publishing a book — even if it’s potentially your book — is integral to their overall business. To imply that they’re evil means that a business is a biological entity with a soul. Yes, some businesses have been accused of being soul-less, but that’s actually a correct statement. A better description of a business would be to think of it as a large, gigantic clock. You only see the face that tells the time, but there are lots of moving parts. Each of those “parts” may have a soul, but together they act as a publisher who wants to produce books that other people will want to purchase and read – they certainly aren’t there to make a writer’s life miserable.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. Why won’t your D&D game make a great novel?

Here’s a rhetorical question: have you heard this story before? It’s about an elf, a ranger, a dwarf and a mage…they wake up at this inn…they don’t have any memories…they face this really evil overlord guy who–

Yes. Yes, I’m sure you have. So has everyone else on the planet.

The first lesson here, is that those characters and that plot have been beaten to death so badly, they’ve become their own cliche.

The second lesson I’d like to offer, is that writing a story not the same as “writing up a game” as a story. When you “write up a game,” you are telling the story as it happened during play, because you believe your game is so exciting other people will want to read about it. However, these stories often turn into a dictation of events, which causes the story to sound forced and the characters to become inflexible. When you write a story, you have more freedom because you don’t have to stick to a specific series of events, partly because the writer hasn’t already experienced what had happened.

Third, I’d also like to point out that many new writers don’t realize that when you write a story about your D&D game, you are engaging in a form of writing called “fan fiction.” In other words, you don’t “own” the story that you’ve created and legally, you aren’t able to sell what you’ve written. (Be sure to read my post about the difference between shared world, tie-in and fan fiction if you’re confused).

Yes, there are people who write for DRAGONLANCE and other tie-in novels for established settings. They do have some challenges writing novels, because they are writing in a world that has already been created. This type of writing can be more difficult than writing original fiction, because there are often strict guidelines that the writers and editors have to follow. (If you’ve ever worked on tie-in or media fiction, it’s a lot like putting a puzzle together.) However, this form of writing isn’t the same as “writing up a game,” because the story isn’t about a “real life” game that’s being played, it’s about a story set in the world of D&D.

If you want to share the story about your favorite game, I recommend reviewing Wizards of the Coast’s Fan Site Policy. If you want to write media, shared world or tie-in fiction, that’s an entirely different path and I encourage you to read Wizard of the Coast’s book submission guidelines.

Regardless, if you’re serious about your love of gaming and honing your craft, I’d encourage you to take a more professional approach. Please, do yourself a favor and conduct a little bit of research before you start typing away. Writing a novel is not as easy as it looks, and you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.

Genre Fiction and Why I Can’t Look at a Piece of Pie

As a writer, I’ve found that I really enjoy experimenting with different themes in fiction. My personal preference is to write in the horror, dark fantasy and science fiction genres because of the freedom and flexibility they provide. The settings I create (or write for) offer me the chance to explore heroic and villainous characters in new and interesting ways. You won’t find me writing a lot of gore or stories about “abuse.” I’m more interested in that little bit of light that resides in all of us — even the characters you least expect to see it in.

As an online marketer, I feel that sociology is part and parcel to what I do every day. From how people are (or aren’t) using specific tools to integrating online networks into your personal life, there’s no doubt that the internet has a profound and significant impact on our lives. I find that my own writing is influenced by popular trends and culture, which is why I tend to explore three-dimensional characters in my fiction rather than plots. Yes, plot is extremely important to my stories, but I prefer to write about the villain that will move mountains for the cute kittens or the hero who doesn’t like eating his peas.

My latest story will be published in just a few months for an anthology called Buried Tales of Pinebox. Dubbed “Pie,” this is a horror short story about a Skinwalker (i.e. an evil creature who skins people to assume their identity for a limited time) who is trying to help the FBI find a murderer in town to save her own skin. Literally. In this horror story, I had specific themes that I wanted to play around with. First and foremost, the main character is a villain, she’s just not “the” villain in this particular plot. Secondly, since Pinebox is a small town in Texas, I wanted to write a story where I ignored the “small town” tropes and focused on using the mundane to add in a horrific element. Even though I only reference it once or twice in the story as part of the subplot, I grossed myself out to the point where I can’t even look at a piece of pie.

What’s next for my writing? I just wrote an article for the Flames Rising horror fanzine about the origin of horror tropes, which is a prelude to writing a monthly column featuring a different strong female character in horror. I’m researching a fight scene for my free urban fantasy novel, but I’ve also got a lot of other things in the pipe including five big events between now and Labor Day. As soon as I get an idea of what panels I’m speaking on, I’ll update you with a schedule.

Writing Notes for Tales of the Seven Dogs Novella

I’m happy to report that Flames Rising featured a preview of Tales of the Seven Dogs Society, my soon-to-be-released novella that I’ll be selling in less than two weeks at GenCon: Indy.

In 1969, Jericho Usher disappeared without a trace, never explaining the otherworldly nature of the annex. Jericho Usher spent his lifetime investigating anomalous phenomena, and it was his intention that others take up his work once he was gone. To facilitate this, Jericho left behind very detailed instructions for assembling a society of investigators. Terrance honored his friend’s intent, overseeing the creation of the Seven Dogs Society, recruiting those who fit the exacting instructions left behind by Jericho Usher.

You may remember that I had written a series of posts about writing game fiction; this post focuses on a behind-the-scenes look at my novella.

Design Notes

One of the advantages to writing fiction for the Aletheia setting, is that I had written for the game. Since I was already familiar with the role of the characters, it was a lot easier to imagine what kind of a story I was going to write. Instead of writing an action/adventure tale, I chose to write a story that alluded to the game’s metaplot.
Read More…

Gaming Fiction Day Four: Inferred Plot and Metaplot

Game fiction can sometimes have an “inferred” plot because of its popularity like many popular movies. Most people know Darth Vader is a bad guy. Writing about the rebels running from Darth Vader may seem like plot to you but really? That’s just a standard detail nowadays. Instead, those same rebels might be running from Darth Vader because they’re hiding a piece of jamming equipment that is going to screw up his cyborg life support mechanism. Now true, we know Darth survives, but how? Will the rebels make it out alive or will they be the ones responsible for delivering the plans to the Bothans?

Providing a layer of curiosity to your plot will help alleviate some of the challenges with an “inferred” plot, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, the publisher will say “and the character X has to be included and he has to win the day.” Okay, yeah. This can stunt creativity and cheapen the story, but only on occasion and strongly depends upon a writer’s skill.

The other thing that often happens is that writers will be trudging along and then *poof* are told that they can’t write X because it doesn’t fit within the metaplot, or the parts of the story that they can’t see. A metaplot is an over-arching plot that covers several books, games, or other media like webcomics in a series like . Examples of metaplots are the Harry Dresden Files book series written by Jim Butcher, the Resident Evil series, or the In a perfect world, writers should be told what they can and can’t write about up front. But the creative world is far from organized, because there are a million zillion moving parts that affect other pieces even the publishers and creators don’t know about. Writers truly have to be extraordinarily flexible with their writing as a result, because the contract only protects so much. Additionally some authors, like myself, have to be very careful about how we put our feet down because well? Unknown writers have less clout that “known.”

In this way, you’ll have to design your story so that it can bend and stretch if it needs to. I know this can be really hard to stomach, because some writers fall in love with their work. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t love what you do, but writing game fiction is about sales. If you’re not writing to sell fiction, you might be doing what I did early on. I wrote to build my portfolio, get references, and explore something I was interesting in doing. In the end, though, if you see a World of Warcraft or Forgotten Realms or even a Vampire: the Requiem novel sitting on a bookstore’s shelf, remember that that book is there to be sold.

There is a ton of other topics to cover with respect to game fiction, and I’ve covered the bare minimum here: audience, theme and plot. Tomorrow, I’m going to cover something different but if you like the series, feel free to let me know and I can talk about this more to cover what I haven’t really touched yet: setting, characters, game mechanics, and so much more.

Game Fiction Series

Day One: Can you Define your Game Fiction Story’s Audience?

Day Two: Can you Identify the Primary and Secondary Themes of your Game?

Day Three: Do you Know how to Plot your Story Based on a Game?

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